Switzerland, Urban Walking
Comments 12

Lugano: A Swiss-Italian Interlude

I’ve been sick for five days now, but I’ve enjoyed my time away from school, even so, and did a great though slow and medicinally enhanced walk yesterday. After I hit “PUBLISH” on this post I’m going to endeavour to get my sorry carcass out there to hit the magic number 50. It’s sunny and enticing, too good a Sunday to waste. I set a vague goal of 100 outings for my year here but at this rate I should exceed that.

Meanwhile I need a break from Korea, and you probably do as well, so it’s back to Switzerland today for a trip to my favourite part of the country. Before I lost my last job I had big dreams of a multi-nation walk for 2012: five countries in depth plus some Summer recuperation in Switzerland. It’s weird how things turn out. Now I’m sitting on the floor in South Korea, a place I’d never considered visiting, let alone living in.

But now I’m starting to think seriously about a Big Walk for 2013. Luckily I brought about a dozen maps and guidebooks from Australia, and I’ve started doing some serious scribbling in the notebook I carry everywhere. All going well, I hope to do at least four of those countries, plus the break in Switzerland.

I was only there a couple of days last time, but it’s my trip to Lugano — and especially the second day — I think of most often when I recall Switzerland, and think about going back in the Summer to see — and walk — it properly…


Sarah got home from work in a bit of a state. “Ian, are you packed? We have to leave now! There’s a bad snow storm coming!”

The sky was grey and surly, but it always looked grey and surly. I made some smart-arse remark and she repeated “Hurry up!” as she grabbed clothes from the cupboard and flung them towards a bag. “We have to go! They might close the roads and we won’t be able to get there!”

We ran around frantically like that for a while, and up and down the stairs throwing stuff in her car, and before long we were on the road south.

Sarah lived in Cham, between Zurich and Lucerne, in the Swiss-German heartland. This was to be my first taste of Canton Ticino and the Italian-speaking part of the country, where she’d spent some time growing up. Switzerland to me is three countries, maybe four, and I’d heard good things about “Italy” already. We drove through one of the longest tunnels in the country and successfully outran the storm.

Sarah’s parents had a small and stylish holiday apartment in the hills above the city. Next day we got started early. The roads would be icy, so we waited for a bus…

Rare proof of my romantic side

..while the snow came down in the forest across the road:

It was very, very cold. We waited a long time. No bus. “These bloody Italians!” said Sarah. I’d never experienced a late bus — a late anything — in Switzerland till that day.

At last we gave up waiting, Sarah retrieved her car — which had ice on the inside — and we drove into town, offering a ride to an old woman who’d been waiting with us. We passed the bus as we wound cautiously down the narrow roads.

With the possible exception of bone-chillingly freezing Neuchâtel, Lugano that day was the coldest city I’d ever endured. Sarah endeavoured to give me a tour, and even struggling with the cold, the falling snow and the icy wind blowing off Lake Lugano, the beauty and history were obvious.

snow on grass

We hid in a cafe for a spell, warming up, and I was delighted to see her order in Italian. These Europeans: she spoke at least four languages, and all I’d picked up in the country was severe frostbite and a smattering of Swiss-German greetings.

Somewhat restored, we resumed stomping through the snow. Sarah really wanted me to see this place for which she had a lot of understandable affection, and we struggled valiantly on, perhaps the only tourists abroad that miserable day.

There were glimpses of a balmier city buried beneath the snow:

At last, though, we retreated to that beautiful apartment. Here’s the reflection in a service station window on the way back:

That evening we had a great dinner. In the local shop I managed to feel like an idiot in yet another language, but emerged at last with fresh-baked bread, cheese, wine and beer, everything unbelievably cheap, and through some magical process I never really understood, prices were further slashed if you revealed that you were “local”.

Before it got dark, though, I went off by myself to explore the amazing “old town” on the hillside behind the apartment. Honestly, I was in heaven. I can’t wait to go back some day with a good camera and in more temperate conditions.

I climbed up those lovely alleyways (writing this, I realise that I’m still spending my weekends climbing up hillside alleyways) for an hour, trying not to get myself too lost, hoping the weather would, as Sarah assured me it would, improve tomorrow so I could do some real exploration.

I decided to get up early to see some more of these ancient buildings and stone walls, and as night seeped through the cloud I headed down past the local cemetery…

..to the warmth, and the wine, in the apartment…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Ah, Switzerland, one of my favourite places on earth!

    I knew you were really an old romantic under that carapace of moans and groans and self-mocking humour, Goat …

    • It’s true, SW: guilty as charged.

      And I’d have to put Switzerland near the top of my list as well. If/when I can explore it in Summer, I’m pretty sure it’ll move even higher up the list.

  2. rivron says

    Ah, Switzerland, one of those places I know virtually nothing about! Until I read your post I could have written what I did know on a postage stamp: there are mountains there, there are banks and the Swiss didn’t invent cuckoo clocks – oh, and their flag’s a white cross on a red background.

    • Switzerland crams a lot into an area not much bigger than a postage stamp, Dominic. Stick around and learn! Oh, and you forgot excellent, cheap chocolate (I ate it every day for breakfast for three months), amazing cheese, terrific bread, great coffee, brilliant trains, fabulous cities and the world’s cutest cows!

  3. These are some pretty nice photos on here! I know you’d like to get back there with a better camera, but to top these you’ve set the bar pretty high. I have a strange photographic fetish and that’s I like to see a photographers reflection in some object of the photo. You’ve pulled out a beauty with the reflection in that huge bauble! What a beautiful place, but it makes me a little chilly looking at these snowy pictures!

  4. Hmm, yes, I remember now, Lugano is special. Fortunately for me, once we’ve moved house we’ll be within fairly easy reach of that part of the world, and I too have some half-formed ideas about spending some time walking from our new home to and through that part of the Alps. See you there maybe!

  5. Another fine post. I have been to Lugano, a long time ago (not going to say exactly how many eons ago as I can’t bring myself to work it out). I remember liking it. You certainly have been to an eclectic mix of countries so far in your travels. I hope you are feeling much better now?

    • Thanks, Rachael. Actually, it depresses me sometimes how little of the world I’ve seen. But I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been fully immersed in some of the places I’ve explored. My wish list for places to go keeps growing, but that’s exciting, and I hope to broaden my “C.V.” with some more of Europe next year on an exciting adventure I’m cobbling together…

    • Oh, and thanks — slightly improved, but can’t shake the chest cough (parents worried I’ll get pneumonia!) and now commencing Day 6 of sick leave!

  6. a strawberry patch says

    Enchanting photographs! Switzerland is on my bucket list. I didn’t realize the country was divided into different cultural areas. Hope you get to feeling better!

    • Thanks very much! Yes, Switzerland crams a LOT into a very small area. I was never bored in my three months there — just about every day I would go for a walk that would have my jaw dropping. A photographer’s paradise. I spent most of my time in the German part, made a couple of trips into the French side (much more to see there next time) and just this enticing taste of the Italian. Definitely go there in the Summer, though, unless you love cold & snow!

      I am a lot better, thanks, but still not ready to face classes all day, so home I remain…

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